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NASA Selects Nine Scientists to Join Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter Mission

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 1, 2021
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A high-definition image of the Mars Australe lava plain on the Moon taken by Japan’s Kaguya lunar orbiter in November 2007. (Credits: JAXA/NHK)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected nine scientists to join the upcoming Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) mission. Set to launch in August 2022 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 and orbit the Moon for about a year, KPLO is the first space exploration mission of the Republic of Korea (ROK) that will travel beyond Earth orbit.

“The KPLO Participating Scientist Program is an example of how international collaborations can leverage the talents of two space agencies, to achieve greater science and exploration success than individual missions,” says Dr. Sang-Ryool Lee, the KPLO Project Manager, “It’s fantastic that the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) lunar mission has NASA as a partner in space exploration—we’re excited to see the new knowledge and opportunities that will arise from the KPLO mission as well as from future joint KARI–NASA activities.”

The three overarching goals of the KPLO mission are realizing the first space exploration mission by ROK, developing and verifying space technologies suitable for deep-space exploration on future missions, and investigating the physical characteristics of the lunar surface to aid future robotic landing missions to the Moon. 

To meet these objectives, the spacecraft will carry a payload of five scientific instruments to include three cameras, a magnetometer, and a gamma-ray spectrometer. NASA is contributing one of the cameras, known as ShadowCam, which will be used to obtain optical images at high-resolution of the permanently shadowed regions at the lunar poles of the Moon that are thought to contain ice. ShadowCam’s principal investigator is Mark Robinson, Professor of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. 

“It is important that the participating scientists are fully embedded in the existing KARI and NASA teams well before the mission is due to launch,” said Shoshana Weider from NASA’s Planetary Science Division who leads the KPLO Participating Scientist Program. “This means they will have plenty of time to collaborate with their KARI colleagues during the pre-launch mission-planning phase, which will help ensure that the science return of their projects, and the mission as a whole, is maximized.”

Each of the nine participating scientists will join the KPLO science team for at least one of the five KPLO instruments beginning later this year and will be funded for three years.  The selected scientists and the associated KPLO instrument(s) are:

William Farrand, Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO: Using KPLO multispectral polarimetric data to distinguish and characterize known and suspected lunar pyroclastic deposits (PolCam)

Caleb Fassett, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL:  Evolution of lunar topography and regolith as constrained by polarimetry (PolCam)

Ian Garrick-Bethell, University of California, Santa Cruz: The lithospheric magnetic field of the Moon at 100 km (KMAG)

Rachel Klima, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, MD: Lunar mineralogical prospecting through integrated spectral analysis (KGRS/LUTI)

Mikhail Kreslavsky, University of California, Santa Cruz: Study of lunar polarimetric anomalies with PolCam

Shuai Li, University of Hawaii, Honolulu: Surface reflectance quantification to enhance performance of predictive modeling of ice in lunar regolith (ShadowCam)

Gorden Videen, Space Science Institute, Boulder, CO: Polarized light scattering from lunar regolith simulants in support of PolCam

Jean-Pierre Williams, University of California, Los Angeles: Local and seasonal temperatures of KPLO polar targets (ShadowCam)

Naoyuki Yamashita, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, AZ: Lunar geochemistry and prospecting with the KPLO Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (KGRS)

The newly appointed scientists were selected through the competed KPLO Participating Scientist Program, which is run jointly by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Planetary Science Division (PSD) and Human Exploration and Operations Directorate (HEOMD) Advanced Exploration Systems Division (AES). The addition of the scientists to KPLO’s existing science team will serve to expand the scientific return of the KPLO mission.

The Moon will be the focus of many robotic and human exploration missions in the coming years, including those under the agency’s Artemis  program. Beginning later this year, NASA will send science instruments and technology experiments on two separate American robotic landers to the lunar surface. Follow-on commercial deliveries for NASA are slated about twice per year, including flights to the lunar South Pole. The KPLO lunar mission will provide scientific data to better understand the lunar poles and assist planning for some Artemis activities. 

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